Aeneid Book 5, lines 680 - 699

Fire strikes Aeneas’s fleet

by Virgil

After the passion and drama of the story of Dido in Book 4, Virgil releases the tension somewhat in Book 5, which is mainly take up with funeral games held for the anniversary of the death of Aeneas’s father, Anchises, a year before. Sea and foot races, a boxing match, an archery contest and cavalry manoeuvres are described in a style that fleshes out in further detail how ancient heroes were supposed to look and behave, and includes a good deal of humour. Then, towards the end of the book a number of developments move the plot decisively forward again. This extract describes the first, in which travel-worn Trojan women are deceived by Aeneas’s enemy, Juno, into an attempt to bring their wanderings to a premature end by burning the Trojan ships. In the aftermath, some will remain behind here in Sicily, in a newly-founded town. The youngest, toughest, bravest and most determined of the Trojans will continue the quest for Italy as a picked, battle-ready band.

See the blog post with an illustration from Claude Lorrain here.

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non idcirco flamma atque incendia viris
indomitas posuere; udo sub robore vivit
stuppa vomens tardum fumum, lentusque carinas
est vapor et toto descendit corpore pestis,
nec vires heroum infusaque flumina prosunt.
tum pius Aeneas umeris abscindere vestem
auxilioque vocare deos et tendere palmas:
‘Iuppiter omnipotens, si nondum exosus ad unum
Troianos, si quid pietas antiqua labores
respicit humanos, da flammam evadere classi
nunc, pater, et tenuis Teucrum res eripe leto.
vel tu, quod superest, infesto fulmine morti,
si mereor, demitte tuaque hic obrue dextra.’
vix haec ediderat cum effusis imbribus atra
tempestas sine more furit tonitruque tremescunt
ardua terrarum et campi; ruit aethere toto
turbidus imber aqua densisque nigerrimus Austris,
implenturque super puppes, semusta madescunt
robora, restinctus donec vapor omnis et omnes
quattuor amissis servatae a peste carinae.

Not for that did the fire and blaze reduce
their mighty strength; under the wet timber the tow
is alight, belching heavy smoke, the slow heat eats
the ships and the plague reaches down all their frame,
the heroes’ strength and the water they pour do no good.
Then loyal Aeneas tore the clothes from his shoulders,
called the gods to aid, stretched out his hands:
“Almighty Jove, if you do not yet despise the Trojans to the last
man, if ancient loyalty has some regard still for the labour
of men, now, Father, grant that the fleet escapes the fire
and snatch the slender fortunes of the Trojans from ruin.
Or, if I so deserve, bring what remains down to death with
your deadly bolt and crush it with your own right hand!”
Hardly had he spoken, when on the instant a black storm,
rages, spouting rain, steeps and fields shake with thunder;
over the whole sky the wild tempest rages in flood, black
with intense southerlies, and the vessels are filled
to overflowing, the half-burnt timber is waterlogged,
until all heat is quenched and all the ships, except four,
are saved from the scourge.

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More Poems by Virgil

  1. Virgil predicts a forthcoming birth and a new golden age
  2. Souls awaiting punishment in Tartarus, and the crimes that brought them there.
  3. The death of Priam
  4. Dido falls in love
  5. Dido and Aeneas: Hell hath no fury …
  6. Aeneas’s vision of Augustus
  7. The farmer’s starry calendar
  8. Aristaeus’s bees
  9. Aeneas learns the way to the underworld
  10. Aeneas reaches the Elysian Fields
  11. The Syrian hostess
  12. How Aeneas will know the site of his city
  13. Rites for the allies’ dead
  14. Juno throws open the gates of war
  15. Aeneas is wounded
  16. Omens for Princess Lavinia
  17. The Trojans prepare to set sail from Carthage
  18. The portals of sleep
  19. Juno is reconciled
  20. Turnus the wolf
  21. In King Latinus’s hall
  22. King Mezentius meets his match
  23. Help for Father Aeneas from Father Tiber
  24. Virgil’s poetic temple to Caesar
  25. Rumour
  26. The death of Pallas
  27. King Latinus grants the Trojans’ request
  28. The farmer’s happy lot
  29. Aeneas arrives in Italy
  30. Palinurus the helmsman is lost
  31. Charon, the ferryman
  32. Vulcan’s forge
  33. Virgil’s perils on the sea
  34. Hector visits Aeneas in a dream
  35. Laocoon and the snakes
  36. Aeneas finds Dido among the shades
  37. The Harpy’s prophecy
  38. Aeneas rescues his Father Anchises
  39. Aeneas saves his son and father, but at a cost
  40. New allies for Aeneas
  41. The journey to Hades begins
  42. Sea-nymphs
  43. Dido’s release
  44. Jupiter’s prophecy
  45. A Fury rouses Turnus to war
  46. More from Virgil’s farming Utopia
  47. Signs of bad weather
  48. Turnus at bay
  49. Aeneas comes to the Hell of Tartarus
  50. Mourning for Pallas
  51. Anchises’s ghost invites Aeneas to visit the underworld
  52. Laocoon warns against the Trojan horse
  53. Aeneas’s oath
  54. The infant Camilla
  55. Catastrophe for Rome?
  56. The Fury Allecto blows the alarm
  57. The Trojans reach Carthage
  58. The Trojan Horse enters the city
  59. Aeneas tours the site of Rome
  60. The death of Euryalus and Nisus
  61. Dido and Aeneas: royal hunt and royal affair
  62. Virgil begins the Georgics
  63. Turnus is lured away from battle
  64. Mercury’s journey to Carthage
  65. The Aeneid begins
  66. Aeneas sees Marcellus, Augustus’s tragic heir
  67. Love is the same for all
  68. Aeneas prepares to tell Dido his story
  69. Aeneas’s ships are transformed
  70. The death of Dido.
  71. Storm at sea!
  72. The natural history of bees
  73. Aeneas joins the fray